Efforts to tighten law on derelict properties; Council’s bid hampered as many sites, houses owned by institutions

Council officials are being hampered in their quest to restore derelict sites and houses in Co Cork as many of the properties are in the hands of financial institutions which can escape penalties applicable to private owners.

Members of Cork County Council will shortly seek to have the laws relating to all derelict properties tightened up after officials prepared a report, on the issue, for the Macroom/Blarney Municipal District Council.

The municipal body decided to shortly seek the backing of the entire 55-member chamber before petitioning Minister Eoghan Murphy who heads Housing, Planning and Local Government.

The report showed, in a number of cases, sites and properties acquired during the last boom were in a state of dereliction. Many are the subject of ‘mortgage judgements’.

However, there is no requirement for a financial institution to share information with a local authority or assist a council in its efforts to try and engage with the property owner.

Significantly, there is also no requirement on financial institutions to ensure the property does not become derelict or to deal with dereliction which might already exist.

The county council’s legal department was quoted in the report saying Section 29 of the Derelict Sites Act 1990 was ‘quite weak’.

Its solicitors recommended the legislation should be strengthened by inserting a section which places liability on corporate bodies.

Cllr Bob Ryan said there was little point in the municipal district council seeking the minister to change the current regulations. “I’d be in favour of going to the full council with this instead,” he said, “we might have some chance with the minister if we get the full council’s backing.”

Many councillors have, in the past, complained that clearing up dereliction was a painfully slow process. However, the County Hall’s solicitor also advised there were a number of pitfalls which made it difficult.

Under the Derelict Sites Act 1990, a local authority can serve an order on a building requiring the owner to undertake work to refurbish it or demolish it, if it is a safety matter.

As a penalty, it can then hit the owner with an annual levy of 3% of the market value of the property. But some owners view it as cheaper to pay the levy than invest in refurbishment.

The council’s legal department said the penalties were clearly inadequate and, as such, should be increased.

Furthermore, it can also be very difficult to establish who is the actual owner of the property or site.

Where a property or land has a Land Registry Folio, the legal owner can be established quickly.

However, in cases where it is on the Registry of Deeds, it is much more difficult and in many cases not possible to identify ownership.

Even if the owner is identified the process can be very cumbersome. The council, it emerged, must first write to the owner saying it was intending to put the property on the Derelict Sites Register. It also has to submit a report to the owner stating what measures need to be undertaken to bring the building up to a proper standard.


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